The Cultural Significance of The Tale of Genji
The Tale of Genji is one of the most important stories of ancient Japanese literature. Japanese scholar Sin Ohno said that there is no literature written during the Heian Era which is written in as precise language as The Tale of Genji. The author, Murasaki Shikibu, is a woman. In this tale, we can see the concept towards marriage of women during her period.
During the Nara Era, and some time before, the concept of marriage was totally different from the concept we know today. It is called "Tsuma Toi Kon." "Tsuma" means wife; "Toi" means to visit; "Kon" means marriage. In order to explain the marriage during this era, I will present an example of the typical interactions between men and women.
When a man meets woman, somewhere like market where many people gather, the man would ask her address and name if he is interested in her. Asking for the name also avoids misunderstanding; asking for the address is so he can visit her. Visiting her is like marriage in today's sense. If the woman is interested in the man, she would tell her address and name. The man would visit the woman's house in the evening and call her name from outside. He might play a musical instrument like a flute, or harp, or sing songs to get her attention. Men sometimes visited women without calling or playing any music. Whether the woman accepts the man is up to the woman to decide. If the woman is interested, she would invite him in. Men and women generally worked during the day time; the men visited women only at night time. In earlier eras, the family built a sub-house beside the main house and invited the men into the sub-house. However, the men did not stay in the sub-house. Men visited at night and left in the morning. When a baby is born, the woman's family raised the baby in the main house as a member of the family. During this time, daughters inherit the land from their mother. This shows that men and women did not completely rely on each other economically. Men and women generally had their own properties and estates. Sometimes women rejected men coming to visit them at their estates after the relationship began. On the other hand, men sometimes stopped visiting women. During the Heian era, traditional marriage was still strong. Also, in some cases, when a man stopped visiting a woman for a while, another man started visiting the woman. While the new man was still visiting, the old man might come back to visit the woman; two men might even meet each other. Visiting several women at a time was not considered rude during this era.
Women were often treated differently according to status. Women of different status often hated each other and became jealous of...